Churches are social institutions.
As a result, the more people who join a church, the greater the complexity of social management. Churches often overlook this fact and mistakenly believe that growth will make all things better.
I’ve been a part of pastoral teams in which we believed the magical elixir of growth would solve our problems. I know first hand what it’s like to ride the wave of growth from under 200 members to over 500 and then back down to 250. I know the sting of realizing the atrophy had nothing to do with a crisis. We simply grew beyond our ability to manage the growth.
Growth always brings with it a greater level of complexity. This is why growth is a goal, not a solution.
A BROKEN ANALOGY
I often hear leaders use sports as an analogy for a winning organization, but I don’t find a parallel to the ever increasing complexity of organizational growth in sports.
In sports, winning never changes the complexity of the game. The game is predefined. The rules are set. A winning team manages just as much complexity as a loosing team.
If every time a team won they had to add 3 new volunteer players and have two of their best players serve in concessions during the next game, then sports would represent an escalating level of complexity. Instead sports offers a controlled degree of complexity regardless of success or failure.
A BETTER ANALOGY
A growing church is more like human development. My 12 year old son is growing quickly, and I have the grocery receipts to prove it. However, I have no expectation that GROWING up will SOLVE his problems. If anything his journey from childhood to adulthood will be one of ever increasing complexity. His only hope to deal with such complexity is to become more intentional about managing his own life.
Here are a few areas where a growing church must become more intentional:
- Intentional communication: growth demands a departure from informal, grassroots communication.
- Intentional presentation: growth brings new people who don’t understand why ungifted singers are appreciated “because we all know them.”
- Intentional assimilation: growth creates anonymity where people can seem to be choosing disconnection but in reality are unsure of how to engage.
- Intentional recruitment: growth requires a departure from accidental volunteers towards strategic requests for volunteers.
I’ve heard Tim Keller say, “One of the most common reasons for pastoral leadership mistakes is blindness to the significance of church size.” I wish I had understood that significance years ago and intentionally managed the complexity of a growing church.